What is creative thinking and why is it important

The idea that, as teachers, we need to foster learners’ creative thinking is something I’m sure you have heard before. So why is there so much attention in our current learning and teaching context on ‘being creative’ and developing thinking skills in the classroom? And are we only talking about learners needing to develop creatively or should we consider ourselves are learners in this area too?

This post is the first in a series in which I’ll be exploring creativity in the classroom in more depth. We’ll be looking at ways we can work more creatively with images in the classroom and will suggest some activities. But, let’s start by considering why creativity has become such an area of focus in education and what it entails for us as teachers.

Creative, me?

Now I don’t know what your schooling was like, but I clearly remember that we focused on gaining knowledge and remembering facts. There always seemed to be a right (and wrong answer..) and one right way of doing things, at least for as far as I remember!  I seriously can’t recall a time that we were given the chance to be creative with language in our German, French or English lessons. Let alone that the teachers were creative with their materials. There was a course book and worksheet which had to be followed and completed. Sound familiar?

Maybe I’m a child of the generation that was, as Sir Ken Robinson (1) puts it, “educated out of their creative capacities..” but as a teacher I felt I had to learn to become more creative. I had to build confidence to move away from set instructions in the course book in order to develop my own creativity.

Often during teacher workshops when I ask teachers to draw, act or make a story or song one of the most common comment I hear is “Oh no.. that’s so not me. I’m not creative at all!” If we believe we are ‘not creative’ how can we teach our learners to think of and look at the world more creatively? So before we go any further, let’s outline why creative thinking is now even more significant than ever before.

Why is creative thinking seen as important in the classroom?

The pace of change in the world is accelerating rapidly and it will continue to change with the development of new technologies etc. This means that the way we taught, or were taught ourselves, in the past might no longer be appropriate for our learners’ future. Nobody can fully predict what skills – let alone knowledge—learners will need to succeed in life. A powerful way to empower our learners is to provide them with the tools and skills, to manage and deal with change effectively. To do so they need global citizenship and 21st Century skills; creative thinking is one of those and is regarded as a key skill for success. Lin (2011) highlights that a creative pedagogy involves an interplay between creative teaching and creative learning so in order to develop creativity in the classroom we need to start with ourselves and be more creative as teachers!

How to define creativity?

Now what exactly do we mean by ‘being creative’? There are many different definitions of ‘creativity’ out there and it is impossible to define an all-inclusive definition. Craft (2005) differentiates between creativity with a big ‘C’ and with a small ‘c’ the last one refers to creatively constructing and communicating meaning in the everyday, interactional context of the classroom through activities such as predicting, guessing and hypothesizing.  Pugliese (2010) cites Robert Sternberg’s definition which read ‘being creative is the ability to produce an idea (or product) that is original and has value’. Taking this definition as a starting point, creativity with a small ‘c’, I’m convinced we can all implement creativity in the classroom to some extent simply by tweaking our current practice. My own personal definition comes down to ‘less is more.’ How can we get more out of the images you find in your National Geographic resources?

So after reading this, how creative do you feel you are in your classroom? In my next blog post I’ll go into some of the models that are available to help you generate innovative ideas and develop learners’ creative skills. But first, here are a few questions to get you thinking about creativity in your current practice:

  • On scale of 1-10 how creative do you feel you are?
  • Do you combine activity ideas?
  • Do you think about alternative ways to use a given resource?
  • Do you change the way the teacher’s book sets the activity?
  • Do you modify your materials, by e.g. adding colours or visuals?
  • Do you reverse or rearrange the order of activities?
  • What would you do with this image in the classroom?
An image from Impact Level 2 Unit 6


Craft, A. (2005) Creativity in Schools; tensions and dilemmas. London, Routledge

Lin, Y. (2011) Fostering creativity through education – a conceptual framework of creative pedagogy. Creative Education 2 (3) 149–155.

Pugliese, C.  (2010) Being Creative, Delta publishers.

Author: Anna Hasper

Anna Hasper is a teacher, trainer and international English Language Teaching consultant based in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. Anna’s specialty is enabling teachers within local constraints, such as limited resources, to become the best teacher they can by enhancing all students’ learning opportunities through engagement. She has been working in the ELT industry for over 13 years and has worked on various projects for the british Council, International House, Ministries of Education, private schools, education providers and publishers in primary, secondary and vocational contexts. She loves exploring new places and learning about different cultures and has worked in a variety of countries such as China, Jordan, Iran, Uganda, Senegal, Algeria and Armenia. She currently writes and trains teachers for publishers and delivers a variety of Cambridge accredited teacher training courses (TKT, CELTA, YL Ex & Delta Module 3) around the world.


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